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UER Mobile > US: Four Corners > A Brief History of the Green River Launch Complex (Viewed 714 times)

post by Aran   |  | 
A Brief History of the Green River Launch Complex
< on 2/22/2023 3:56 AM >

Note: I'm not censoring details on this one for two reasons. The first is that it's incredibly remote, so the odds of bad actors going all that way just to mess stuff up are slim. But more importantly, it's so trashed out that there's not really anything left to break in the first place- Anything that could be scrapped or broken was destroyed long, long ago.


Built in 1963, the Green River Launch Complex in Utah was an off-range sub-installation for the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Weapons testing on the Pershing and Athena missile systems was conducted there until 1975. Missiles were fired from the Green River Launch Complex, monitored in flight by several military radar installations along the way, and then landed in the White Sands Missile Range. Consisting of nine distinct areas spread out over 3450 acres, it had two launch complexes, a cantonment (main administration/barracks) area, a radar station, storage buildings, and more.

Pershing missiles were short range and highly mobile, designed to be carried on and launched from specialized trucks. While they were more commonly used as field artillery and outfitted with conventional warheads, they were capable of carrying tactical scale nuclear warheads and were designed to be used in a limited nuclear exchange. All Pershing missiles were decommissioned and destroyed following the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1988, which banned all short and intermediate ranged nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles.

Meanwhile, the Athena RTV system was never intended for military use. Instead, it was a research missile designed to gather data on orbital reentry conditions and test components for intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of the Advanced Ballistics Reentry System (ABRES) Program. Testing was eventually concluded in 1977, and the Athena project was credited with helping to develop MIRV style missiles capable of carrying multiple warheads, each one capable of altering its trajectory independently and on demand. Beyond that, little information is available on this missile system and it shares the name "Athena" with at least two civilian rocket systems for space travel and one military laser weapons system, among others- which only muddles the waters further.

The Green River Launch Complex generated at least two major diplomatic incidents during the Cold War when missiles launched from there overshot the White Sands Missile Range and accidentally bombed Mexico instead. In one particularly egregious incident in 1970, the offending Athena missile was carrying containers of radioactive Cobalt 57 when it crashed, a fact the Mexican government was none too happy about. Hundreds of tons of soil had to be removed as part of environmental decontamination efforts since Cobalt 57 is a key ingredient in "salted" nuclear bombs, which are designed to disperse massive amounts of radiation to ensure that the fallout "salts the earth" after the initial blast. High level members of the American military were well aware of the possibility of such a diplomatic incident for years beforehand, but decided the risk was acceptable if it granted the US technological superiority over the Soviet ICBM programs.

Today, most of the Green River Launch Complex is abandoned. A small section of the complex is now the Green River Uranium Disposal Cell, a radioactive waste dump for mine tailing cleanup projects. The buildings still standing are empty, scrapped out shells, and most sections of the base are desert and empty foundations.


Figure 1: One of the three launch pads Athena missiles were launched from, with a blast shield protecting electrical equipment on the left.



Figure 2: An overview of the launch site itself, with the shielded cable lines crisscrossing the area and converging on the control bunker.



Figure 3: The control bunker behind a barbed wire fence.



Figure 4: An empty building, presumably used for either storage or missile assembly.



Figure 5: Another shot of the control bunker exterior.


Figure 6: The interior of the control bunker.



Figure 7: Miscellaneous equipment in the middle of the launch area, between some of the launch pads. The backside of the blast shields from the first picture can be seen in the background.



Figure 8: An electrical pole hanging by the wire, with the mountainous desert in the background.



Figure 9: The cantonment area down the road from the launch area. This is where the command post, barracks, and other amenities were located in a giant neighborhood of trailers. All that remains now are foundations.



Figure 10: A small side building down the road from the launch area. Graffiti insides shows that the Strategic Beer Command and several MSP explorers camped out in here back during one of their expeditions in the early 2010s. If any members of the SBC are reading this, hi!



Figure 11: The distant desert mountains through a rusting corrugated metal air duct.



Figure 12: A large building most likely used for missile engine assembly, according to my research. Like everything else here, it's an empty shell of its former self.

[last edit 2/22/2023 8:32 AM by Aran - edited 9 times]

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post by Jsuman   |  | 
Re: A Brief History of the Green River Launch Complex
<Reply # 1 on 2/22/2023 5:11 AM >

Nice writeup, the fact that they were slinging around missile with Cobalt-60 anywhere is pretty fucking terrifying. What was the thickness of the blast shields?


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post by Aran   |  | 
Re: A Brief History of the Green River Launch Complex
<Reply # 2 on 2/23/2023 8:22 AM >

Posted by Jsuman
Nice writeup, the fact that they were slinging around missile with Cobalt-60 anywhere is pretty fucking terrifying. What was the thickness of the blast shields?


Yeah, the Cold War Era military was really willing to go to any lengths if they thought it might grant the US an advantage over the Soviets, no matter how slim the advantage or how dangerous the risk.

Also, the blast shields were about 2 inches thick and made of solid steel.


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post by Arch-Image   |  | 
Re: A Brief History of the Green River Launch Complex
<Reply # 3 on 3/19/2023 11:17 PM >

Good eye to catch #11 shot


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post by Caroleyene   |  | 
Re: A Brief History of the Green River Launch Complex
<Reply # 4 on 3/27/2023 8:55 PM >

This is a fun place. Did you see all the buildi gs on the other side of the freeway?


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post by Aran   |  | 
Re: A Brief History of the Green River Launch Complex
<Reply # 5 on 7/20/2023 6:56 PM >

Posted by Arch-Image
Good eye to catch #11 shot


Thanks!

Posted by Caroleyene
This is a fun place. Did you see all the buildi gs on the other side of the freeway?


No unfortunately, I didn't realize they were part of the complex at the time. A friend who lived closer went back and got some good photos though, I'll definitely check it out again if I'm ever back in the region.


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